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Palm Is police awards anger critics -

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Palm Is police awards anger critics

Broadcast: 03/11/2008

Transcript

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Queensland Police today held their biggest ever awards ceremony to honour 34
of their officers who came under attack during a riot in Palm Island in 2004. Police say
recognition is long overdue, but with legal action over the riots still pending, the awards
ceremony has enraged critics, including the Speaker of the Queensland Parliament, who says police
are rubbing salt into old wounds.

A new Crime and Misconduct Commission report has also surfaced showing that police have taken close
to a year to respond to a recommendation that the officer at the centre of the Palm Island
controversy undergo conflict resolution training.

Connor Duffy reports from Townsville.

CONOR DUFFY, REPORTER: These police officers may not carry physical wounds from the Palm Island
riots in 2004, but they say it's left them mentally scarred.

KATHY RYNDERS, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, QLD POLICE SERVICE: A mob quickly descended on the police
station, yelling, throwing rocks, lumps of cement and star pickets. They attempted in vain to
barricade windows and doors to protect themselves from projectiles. It was then that they realised
the crowd were attacking the walls with sledgehammers and trying to pour petrol in the holes.

BOB ATKINSON, QLD POLICE COMMISSIONER: We believe, absolutely, that they acted with great courage,
wonderful judgment and they prevented what was a very bad situation from being a far, far worse
situation.

CONOR DUFFY: Police say the officers involved in the riot called their families to say their last
goodbyes, and believe they've waited too long to have that bravery recognised.

BOB ATKINSON: I think four years is long enough to be formally recognised.

CONOR DUFFY: The riot began after a death in custody of an Aboriginal man known as Mulrunji. The
arresting officer was Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley. He was eventually charged and then acquitted of
manslaughter over the death.

BRIAN RICHARDSON, VALOUR AWARD RECIPIENT: Look, the majority of people on Palm Island, they're good
people. And, OK, some of those people, as we know - we've been through the court process and that,
and they certainly got wound up about the death of that fellow, but ... . And to some extent, I can
understand that.

CONOR DUFFY: Police have been urged to delay these awards because an Aboriginal man has just been
convicted over the riots and is due to be sentenced at the end of the week. Today, protesters
picketed the Queensland Police headquarters in Brisbane.

SAM WATSON, ABORIGINAL COMMUNITY WORKER: We're protesting against the fact that the medals were
awarded, number one. And number two, we're protesting against the timing of this award because Lex
Wootton, our brother, is in custody.

CONOR DUFFY: And the speaker of the Queensland Parliament Mike Reynolds says the awards will set
race relations back years.

MIKE REYNOLDS, SPEAKER, QLD LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY: The people of Palm have been to hell and back
over the last four years, just four years since the death in custody on Palm. And I think that I
could not think of a worser time. But I do think that the sense of timing here is very culturally
incompetent.

CONOR DUFFY: While police insist the awards had to go ahead immediately, there are more suggestions
tonight that the Queensland Police Service is slow to act on questions of misconduct stemming from
incidents on Palm Island. Once again, they revolve around Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, the man who
now admits to accidentally causing the death in custody that led to the riots.

Lateline has obtained the Crime and Misconduct Commissions findings in the case of Barbara Pilot, a
Palm Island woman who alleged that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley drove over her foot a few months
before that violence. While it didn't recommend charges or disciplinary action, it said:

STEPHEN LAMBRIDES, ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER (Dec. 10, 2007): "However, the number of similar
complaints of excessive use of force (although unsubstantiated) that have been made against Hurley
is of concern to the CMC. The CMC has recommended that the Queensland Police Service consider
providing Hurley with training and managerial guidance in the police guidelines relating to the
proper use of force and in conflict resolution."

CONOR DUFFY: Those confidential CMC findings were sent to Barbara Pilot in December last year, but
Queensland Police say they are still deciding how to respond to the recommendations.

PAULA MORREAU, LAWYER, PALM ISLAND COMMUNITY: There's sufficient time to be awarding bravery
medals, and yet not sufficient time to fulfil not only the CMC recommendations, but also the
coroner's recommendations from 2006.

CONOR DUFFY: The Police Union says no action should be taken against Sergeant Hurley, because none
of the allegations have been proven.

Just weeks ago, police settled Barbara Pilot's civil action over her foot injuries, paying her
compensation, though they have not admitted liability.

Conor Duffy, Lateline.